By Fred Obee
State oversight of county activities, budget decisions and bureaucratic foot dragging are having big impacts here.
Thats what state Sen. Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata) heard as he met with the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors in the joint briefing Wednesday.
On the foot dragging end of things, Supervisor Chuck Blackburn said the state has promised for years to look at widening Highway 199, but that no improvements in the winding narrow road have been made since 1964.
I think its a situation that needs to be tackled soon, Blackburn said. I would hope the state would look into this.
Blackburn said to date state officials have estimated the improvements at as much as $50 million, but he said a similar project in Oregon was accomplished for about $1.7 million and was completed in less than three months.
Chesbro said he was very familiar with the problem spots on Highway 199. In spots the road is extremely narrow and that creates safety problems and limits the trucks which can use the route.
They have this all or nothing mentality, Chesbro said, referring to CalTrans, the state agency that manages highway improvements.
The agency seems to prefer big projects, Chesbro said, rather than small, practical and incremental improvements.
Chesbro said care should be taken with any Highway 199 project to avoid adverse environmental impacts, but he said the small improvements Blackburn was suggesting should be able to be accomplished without endangering Smith River.
I will commit to you to try to get them (CalTrans) focused on the changes that are needed, Chesbro said.
Supervisor Martha McClure urged Chesbro to work to ensure the state Department of Fish and Game has enough money to develop a management plan for Lake Earl.
We are at a 100-year argument, McClure said, and an officially sanctioned management plan will do a lot to address the concerns of property owners and conservationists.
McClure said the supervisors stepped up to the challenge of finding a consensus when they appointed a committee to study Lake Earl issues. She said she hopes the committees work will end with Del Norte County residents speaking with one voice to the state.
Supervisor Clyde Eller said McClures description of problems in lake management was overly kind to Fish and Game.
In 10 years, they have failed to adopt a management plan, Eller said flatly.
McClure said she also would like to see more predictable funding for rural county programs and a realization from state officials that a small amount of money can go a long way in rural areas.
On economic development fronts, McClure urged the state to begin locating portions of its workforce outside the Sacramento area. With telecommunication applications, state workers could just as easily be working in Del Norte County and enjoy a higher quality of life on their state salaries.
She added that locating state high-tech offices here would tend to attract other high-tech firms, because one workforce would complement the other.
Chesbro agreed McClures ideas made sense, and said he would do what he could to help bring public and private high-tech jobs here.
One area where state regulations have become onerous is in the regulation of gravel mining, Eller said.
We have such restrictions put on us by state agencies, Eller said. Were thrown in with every other river in the state, regardless of the policies and procedures adhered to here.
Eller said mining gravel from area rivers is already carefully managed so the amount of gravel removed doesnt exceed the amount of gravel that washes down the river each year.
Gravel mining helps the environment for endangered fish, Eller added.
We know gravel is coming down so fast its plugging up the end of the river, Eller said. That leads to shallower rivers and higher water temperatures that kill fish, as happened in the Klamath River last week.
And although local gravel miners are willing to abide by environmental restrictions, still the State Fish and Game Department and the Coastal Commission continue to make gravel mining more difficult.
Blackburn said he was talking with a gravel miner recently whose 5-year permit expired. He applied for a new one, was forced to hire a botanist, and then was given a permit good for only one year.
The people who work in these rivers should have more say, Blackburn said. Weve got gravel miners who want to stay in the business and obey the law.
Chesbro said a long-term solution might lie in an updated Coastal Plan, which could describe how gravel will be mined. If the plan is approved by the Coastal Commission, then local jurisdictions are granted more authority without having to go back to the state each year.
If theres a commitment to doing it right, you should be able to go through the hoops in a big way, Chesbro said, and simplify year-to-year processes.
County probation and law enforcement officials told Chesbro they appreciated additional funding for police and the prosecution of crime, but said they worried the money might disappear as the state scrambles to cover a shortfall in juvenile justice funds.
Chesbro said Gov. Gray Davis vetoed money for the juvenile justice system, which has temporarily caused some concerns.
Prosecution and prevention stuff shouldnt be competing, Chesbro said. A balanced approach is absolutely necessary. I support both equally.